I came to Falmouth 6 months ago to learn the craft of becoming a writer, I had a Second Chance in Life to realise an ambition. It followed a low period of my life, redundancy, divorce, bereavement. It has not been an easy journey but, at times, a satisfying and rewarding one.
The last week of February has taken me on a surreal journey, a product of my decision to dive into the fast flowing waters of academic life beside the sea in Cornwall.
The week starts with the arrival in the post of a beautiful new book, “To the River, A Journey Beneath the Surface” by Olivia Laing, An account of a walk along the length of the Ouse: the Sussex river made famous by the author Virginia Woolf , who loved it and lived by it, but who drowned herself in its waters in 1941. The opening lines of the book are:” I am haunted by water. It may be that I’m too dry in myself, too English, or it may be simply that I’m susceptible to beauty, but I do not feel truly at ease on the earth unless there’s a river nearby.”
The week continues with me wandering fairly aimlessly down Falmouth’s high street that skirts the meandering edges of the bay. I pass the Falmouth Booksellers, resplendent with its new vivid, swirly aquamarine display promoting Diving Belles. This is a lyrical debut book by Lucy Wood, a recent graduate from the Exeter MA Creative Writing course, a sister to my MA Professional Writing course at University College Falmouth. The book brings to life the rich and magical Cornish cornucopia of myth and legend : a folkloric cocktail of sea, sirens and mermaids lolling on blanched sands and bathing in moonbeams.
I glance cross the road and strike gold.
A second- hand shop. A bare utilitarian window display. Twinkling like a jewel sits a rare and coveted book. A signed 1955 first edition by the poet and writer, Laurie Lee. He of Cider with Rosie and As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning. He, that sparked my lifelong love of Spain and language and words.
I had to have this small book of poetry “My Many- coated Man.” I did have it and bore it home, unopened, a treasure to savour.
On Friday, I join the University guest speaker of the week, Sylvie Saunders, from the design agency, Pearlfisher. Sylvie has, what must be the best job title in the world,” Head of Words.” She specialises in Design and Packaging and has clients like Innocent , Jamie Oliver and Maldon Salt. She has to tell stories using sometimes just 4 or 5 words, spare, sparse minimal prose to conjure up magic. She is good at it. I can relate to this as I await to see whether my 62 word story, Blood Cell, one of a hundred such stories in 26 Hidden Treasures, gets the green light for publication by Unbound. It looks very likely which is great news.
Sylvie wraps up the talk and hands out her business card. Can a business card be a thing of beauty?
I think perhaps it can, hers is a single block of greeny- blue texture with the solitary word, Sylvie, swimming across its centre, in white.It is beautiful and minimal and just floats past the eye.
I go home and open up My Many-coated Man at page 15 and read the following from the poem “Song by the Sea.”
Girl of green waters, liquid as lies,
Cool as the calloused snow
From my attic brain and prisoned eyes
Draw me and drown me now
O suck me down to your weeds and fates,
Green horizontal girl
And in your salt-bright body breed
My death’s dream-centred pearl
I look at Sylvie’s green rectangle of green in my hand.
I go back, that evening, to that same small stretch of street in Falmouth, seemingly alive with early Spring magic, and slip into the Poly and listen to The Roving Crows, a band voted the best Irish Celtic rock folk band in 2011. My eyes and my ears are drawn to, and bewitched by, Caitlin Barrett, a water sprite of a girl from the Emerald Isle who caresses and coaxes her fiddle to evoke her Celtic ancestry and to tell stories of grief and love and hope.